YA – Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story)

Nayeri, Daniel. Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story). Levine Querido, 2020. 346 p. 978-1-646-14000-8. $17.99.  Grades 7-12.

When Khosrou’s (Daniel’s) physician mother converts to Christianity in the 1980’s, she endangers her life because of the Iranian government’s restrictions on religion. His father, a jovial, loquacious dentist covertly obtains the proper paperwork for escape, then drops off his eight-year-old son and twelve-year-old daughter, Dina, at the airport as his wife starts a journey that will take the threesome to Dubai, Italy, and finally, Oklahoma. Daniel Nayeri’s Printz Award-winning book, Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story), telling how his family turned from comfortable, wealthy land owners to battered, poor refugees can be summed up in these few sentences; but the flow of the chapter-less pages weaves a tale likened to the much admired, Scheherazade of 1,001 Nights. The paragraphs describing memories of Daniel’s (no one in America can pronounce Khosrou!) grandparents’ home and his parents’ relationship spin into beloved Persian legends and myths and wind up next to pages relating the harsher daily existence he experiences in Oklahoma. Daniel is at the center of a maelstrom as the cover depicts, a twelve-year-old boy with different tastes in foods and specific hygienic customs, wanting to fit in yet also wanting to hold on to the Persian culture he cherishes. A son with vivid recollections who longs for the warmth of his biological father, but is resigned to live with his stern, abusive Farsi- speaking step-father whom his mother marries and keeps remarrying for companionship and convenience, despite the beatings she suffers. As Daniel narrates his life tale with casual familiarity, the reader learns of the ancient heritage of Iran and its reverence and love of story, his difficulties adjusting to each stage of the refugee journey, and his impressions of Americans and life here. Most of all, the story is a tribute to the perseverance and unconditional love of his mother, Sima. In the refugee hotel of Italy instead of lolling around all day waiting for the call to emigrate, she makes a connection with a Texan woman living in Rome who home schools her own children and arranges for Daniel and Dina to share in the lessons even though Sima has to spend hours erasing the answers from the host children’s cast-off notebooks so that Daniel and Dina can use them. Her determination and dignity to make life good for her son and daughter are evident in that scene. Told not as a memoir, but as a work of fiction—for as the narrator tells us, it is not so simple to sort out fact from fiction when dealing with one’s memories—Daniel delivers the truth of his life as he remembers it with humor and charm and not a bit of self-pity. Shifting from present to far past to recent past, he shares his varied observations, thus preserving his precious legacy of storytelling, made up or real, or a mixture of both.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: Like the coveted cream puffs described in one of Nayeri’s tales, this book is a treat for those who appreciate a different writing style and matchless imagery. There are bits of scatological references—the unhappy affect of a first-time encounter with Sloppy Joes and negotiating a toilet with a bidet—but the targeted audience may appreciate and even empathize with Daniel’s situations. Written with a truly inimitable voice, this work is unlike any book for middle grade or young adult this reader has encountered. Recommend to students who love words or like to write, to those new to a place, or those needing to understand another perspective.

YA – Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard

Brown, Echo. Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-30985-3. $17.99. 291 p. Grades 9 and up.

The reader meets the main character of Echo Brown’s Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard at age six in a dangerous situation and follows her until she embarks to college. On the way, Echo is becoming a wizard –not the Hermione Granger kind–but the kind made from determination and desire. Each chapter in this memoir-like novel includes a quality Echo, the Black girl of the title, assumes to realize her true self. Bad things happen as Echo treads that path to her goal: household rife with alcoholism and addiction; molestation; rape; incarceration of her brother; injury to her best friend. But author Brown realizes Echo’s existence is complex. Her mother craves the “white rocks;” but she, too, is a wizard with nurturing powers. Her brothers hang on the corner and drink too much; but they also have dreams and are their sister’s strongest champions. Echo has good friends, mostly Black, but also Jin, a Korean-American gay classmate, and Elena, an Iranian-American gay friend. (Their sexual orientation is irrelevant to the plot.) Her Cleveland neighborhood is supportive and proud of her accomplishments. She has an encouraging teacher, Mrs. Delaney, who takes Echo under her wing to help her attain her college goals. The first time she goes to Mrs. Delaney’s large, suburban home, Echo is shocked to discover her white teacher’s husband is Black. Seventeen and insecure, she senses his restrained and even dismissive opinion of her. The author has an ineffable talent for infusing these important themes of racism, white supremacy, implicit and explicit biases, micro-aggressions, Black versus Black aggression, self image among Black women, and misogyny among Black men seamlessly because she tells them as part of Echo’s story. At times, the author takes a non-linear approach to deliver Echo’s tale, especially when the lessons of wizardry are at work. This technique fits with the book. It is a study in opposites: real but fantastic; lovely but harsh; despairing but hopeful. It is a story of inequity and the innate ability to fight that inequity and succeed, hence the power of wizardry. In truth, the wizards are strong women, overcoming flaws and shortcomings. All of them show Echo how capable and resilient she is.

THOUGHTS: Echo Brown’s writing style is moving. Ms. Brown also differentiates between the main character’s standard English narrative and Ebonics of her family and Cleveland, Ohio, neighbors. Because of some language (the n word), sexual scenes, and the sophistication of the writing, this book may be better suited to older teens and young adults. An outstanding book.

Magic Realism          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

MS/HS Nonfiction – Cookbooks; Amish

ballparkcookbooks

Jorgensen, Katrina. Ballpark Cookbooks (Sports Illustrated for Kids series).  North Mankato, MN: Capstone. 2016. 64p. $23.49 ea.  Gr 6 and up.

Ball Park Cookbook: The American League:  Recipes Inspired by Baseball Stadium Foods.  978-1-4914-8232-2.

Ball Park Cookbook: The National League: Recipes Inspired by Baseball Stadium Foods.  978-1-4914-8233-9.

Ballpark Cookbooks, from Sports Illustrated Kid, teach students how to cook some of the signature dishes served at baseball stadiums throughout the country.  Each entry in the books features the team’s ballpark statistics.  When was the park built?  Where is it located?  What is the seating capacity of the stadium?  The entries also include interesting background information; the entry for PNC Park in Pittsburgh has a sidebar discussing the importance of Heinz condiments to the city.  The entry for Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia talks about the “Great Cheesesteak Debate.”  Baseball-shaped factoids talk about interesting rituals different players have and ballpark-related trivia.  As for the recipes themselves, each one features an attractive photograph of the finished product, clear directions for making the recipe, and a comprehensive ingredient list.

I would recommend these cookbooks for junior and senior high students largely because they employ cooking techniques that younger children should not try without adult supervision.  There are also a number of ingredients that most families will not have on hand including things like deveined shrimp, yeast, and exotic spices.  It is important to note that the author of these books is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, so the recipes have a level of sophistication usually not seen in children’s cookbooks.  THOUGHTS: These books are a feast for the eyes.  They are well-organized, have colorful pictures of the recipes/ballparks, and the trivia entries are engaging.  I do think that young people will need supervision while making many of the recipes, but it would be good family fun to cook a ballpark style dinner before “the big game.”  I consider these books to be a valuable addition to school libraries, especially since they will appeal to young men who might not otherwise pick up a cookbook.

641.5; Cookbook           Susan E. Fox, Washington Park School

 

amish

Nolt, Steven M. The Amish: a concise introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2016. 978-1-4214-1956-5. 141p. $16.95. Gr. 9 and up.

The Amish remain a curiosity to many Americans (especially those who do not live in communities where Amish populations are present). Many misconceptions abound about Amish life, such as all Amish teens are wild rabble-rousers or that shunning is a common occurrence within the Amish church. Professor Steven Nolt aims to clearly explain the Amish culture and beliefs in this brief  introductory text. The development and history of the Amish religion in Europe is presented as well as the group’s immigration to America. Also discussed are the basics of Amish religious beliefs and practices. Family life, schooling, work, and the role of the Amish in their greater community are also explained. A chapter on the Amish and the modern media discusses how the Amish are portrayed in film and television. The text is supplemented by photos, maps,  charts, and appendices. THOUGHTS: Though written for the adult reader, the text of this book is quite accessible and can easily be understood by high schoolers.The basics of Amish beliefs clearly explained and common misconceptions are also addressed. Also of note is the discussion of Amish use/non-use of current technologies, which is not present in older works on the Amish. Recommended for schools where the Amish may be discussed in religion or history class, or where Amish are present in the greater community.

289.73; Religion       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS